Reading Mindfully: Junot Díaz’s The Terror

Reading Mindfully: Junot Díaz’s The Terror

Each month, we offer you a chance to read mindfully, using literature to think about your perceptions and reactions to the world in which we live and work. Through these short texts and accompanying questions, we hope to give you a small taste of Books@Work. Please grab a friend or colleague to read, share and discuss – and send us your thoughts.

Born in the Dominican Republic in 1968, Junot Díaz spent his childhood in Parlin, New Jersey and read voraciously, building up an appetite for apocalyptic films and books. A MacArthur “Genius” grantee and a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, much of his work addresses the experience of being an immigrant in the United States.

His autobiographical essay “The Terror” tells the story of the crippling fear he experienced in his adolescence following a “beat-down” by kids on the other side of his neighborhood.

As you read “The Terror,” consider these questions:

  • Why is it so hard to face our fears and conquer them?
  • Have the fears you had as a child subsided or changed over time?
  • How do our communities shape us and our behavior?

The Terror

By Junot Díaz

I got jumped at a pretty bad time in my life. Not that there’s ever a good time.

What I mean is that I was already deep in the vulnerability matrix. I had just entered seventh grade, was at peak adolescent craziness and, to make matters worse, was dealing with a new middle school whose dreary white middle-­class bigotry was cutting the heart out of me. I wasn’t two periods into my first day before a classmate called me a ‘‘sand nigger,’’ as if it were no big deal. Someone else asked me if my family ate dogs every day or only once in a while. By my third month, that school had me feeling like the poorest, ugliest immigrant freak in the universe.

Image: Francisco Goya, The Madness of Fear, [Public Domain] via

Continue reading “The Terror” in the New York Times.

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Maredith Sheridan

Maredith Sheridan

Maredith Sheridan is a Development Communications Associate at the Cleveland Orchestra and a part-time member of the Books@Work team. She continues to write posts for our blog.